New bases, heat, flavor mashups and healthier options are expanding
snack flavor horizons.
According to a 2013 SymphonyIRI Group ( www. iriworldwide.com) report, sales of snack nuts, seeds and corn nuts rose 10.9% in 2012. Crackers and salty
snacks grew by 6.7% and 4.2%, respectively, in the same period.
That year, according to the same report, private label salty snack
offerings gained 0.2% marketshare. Meanwhile, consumers
showed a susceptibility to price fluctuations. At the same time,
consumers have increased the range of hours in which they
snack, increasing both frequency and diversity of snacking
choices. These snackers are looking for products to deliver
health benefits. In fact, a recent ConAgra/SuperMarketGuru
report ( www.supermarketguru.com/) on 2014 trends noted
that “Better for You Snacking” was a key phenomenon, adding,
“Healthy options are on the rise. Look for supermarkets to
replace high-sugar, high-fat snacks at the checkout with healthier
In recent years, snack category growth has been driven by the
rise of gluten-free diet options and a desire for healthy snacks.
Overall, the snack category is “trying to break out of the
standard salty snack that everyone’s used to and broadening
horizons,” says AnnMarie Kraszewski, a food scientist at Wixon.
“People are more specific and particular about what they want
to eat these days. Everyone still likes cheddar and barbecue,
but the projects we’ve had coming in have moved beyond that.”
Kraszewski is seeing experimentation with “flavor mashups”
that combine different types of flavors together, which attracts
a younger generation of consumers.
Sharon Van Horn, senior applications technologist at FONA
International, notes that complex, layered flavors are sought-after. These include combinations of sweet, savory and acidic
profiles, sweet and salty, and sweet and spicy. She adds that
snack food manufacturers are retooling classic flavors to attract
consumers, such as modifying a ketchup with a bloody mary
profile, a chip with a cheeseburger flavor, or combining a grilled
cheese profile with bacon, caramelized onions or spicy pickles
for additional sophistication.
International flavors, too, are a key trend, says Kraszewski.
While this trend is currently stronger in Europe, it is picking
up in the United States.
“We’re seeing a lot of requests for authentic ethnic flavors
with global influences,” says Van Horn. “Like spice blends from
emerging authentic cuisines from South America, Peru and
Brazil, and the Mediterranean.”
“There are a lot of snack bases coming in that are coming
in that are not your standard potato chip or puffed corn, says
Kraszewski. “There are a lot of healthier options [incorporating]
different seeds, different grains, a lot more baked as opposed to
fried [bases].” In addition, Kraszewski says, manufacturers are
even applying pasta bases in the snacking arena.
Van Horn notes that popped snacks, including popcorn,
extruded products, chips, cereals, baked items, snack bars, and
on-the-go and “nutrition-in-transit” products have grown in
Kraszewski explains, “Some of the projects we’ve had come
in where [the customer] has the healthier base, they’ve asked
for a flavor that compliments it, such as a sesame cracker or a
rice cracker. If you have reduced sodium you [need] flavors that
are bold enough to go beyond salt.”
“When you look at salt reduction, we observe negative hedonic
impact among consumers when we pull back on sodium,” says
Michael Gundlach, scientist at FONA International. He adds
that, while there is no globally accepted recommended level for
sodium intake, many use the 500 mg/day figure for individuals
aged two and up.
“From a flavor perception perspective, there are actually
quite a few tools that we as flavor scientists can use to modulate
the perception of sodium,” says Gundlach. “These tools include
manipulating even the morphology of the salt crystals ... to
change how quickly or completely it dissolves in the mouth.
Overall, the snack category is “trying to break out of the standard salty snack
that everyone’s used to and broadening horizons,” says AnneMarie Kraszewski,
a food scientist at Wixon.